Appetite Or Appearances

Vending machines wrapped with the FitArlington logo make them easier to identify as healthy food choices. Photo Courtesy Of Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation

Vending machines wrapped with the FitArlington logo make them easier to identify as healthy food choices. Photo Courtesy Of Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation

The push to encourage patrons to make healthier choices has trickled all the way down to the vending machines that used to supply Snickers, M&Ms, and Doritos in recreation centers. And while most would say that residents are thrilled at the prospect of being able to choose healthier snacks, is this really being done so in practice? The responses are as mixed as the food choices in the machines. 

“The community loved the idea that we were doing healthy vending with lots of great feedback and kudos, but frankly, in practice, we didn’t see people clamoring to eat the healthy options,” says Susan Kalish, director of marketing and communications for the city of Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources in Virginia. “Partly this could be due to the fact that the healthy vending line was a bit more expensive than the traditional junk food you find in vending machines. What’s more, the healthy brands don’t have the same brand recognition as Doritos or M&Ms.” 

The Government Steps In

Although companies such as Fresh Healthy Vending and HUMAN Healthy Vending have been around for several years, more people took notice after the USDA implemented its “Smart Snacks in Schools” regulations in February. The mandates restrict snacks in vending machines to: 

  • Fewer than 200 calories per serving
  • No more than 200 milligrams of sodium
  • Less than 35 percent of calories from fat, and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat
  • Caffeine-free drinks. 

Although the mandates apply only to schools, some people have taken the initiative to apply these efforts to parks and recreation facilities as well. 

“Healthy vending is a key option for communities to support the community with healthy food choices. The trick, however, is to not force people to only eat healthy, but to provide the option along with an education campaign to help people do the right thing,” Kalish explains. “For example, in office buildings we aren’t going 100-percent healthy options. Most of the vending customers in our office

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / DimensionDesign

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / DimensionDesign

buildings are adults, and adults have the right to choose. Therefore, we started with 50-percent healthy and over time are moving to 100-percent … if the market will bear it. For vending machines that kids generally use—those in our parks and centers—we only stock 100-percent healthy. Kids may not have been educated to make healthy choices, and their guardians may not be there to help them choose.”  

While some are transitioning to make their vending machines healthier, others have decided to eliminate sweets altogether. 

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